Francesca Hayward, Laurie Davidson, Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo, Ray Winstone
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…unable to claw itself away from its detracting visuals.
Just when you thought an adaptation of a jazz-ballet musical showcasing a clowder of junkyard cats competing against one another to ascend into cat-heaven wasn’t absurd enough, Tom Hooper takes it one voyeuristic paw further into strange-dom with his live-action adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s polarising musical Cats.
The fact that these titular cats frolic in garbage becomes mildly symbolic of the film itself. Cats, a musical renowned for being largely story-less, relies on the extravagance of its performances to captivate (let alone justify its transition from stage to silver screen).
Had Hooper taken his approach from Les Misérables and focused on extended takes, Cats could have dazzled by the sheer prowess of its performers. Hooper offers a series of fast-moving and jarring dance sequences that are as fleeting in screen time as the litter of actors who occupy the ensemble cast. The heavy lifting here is actually handled by an impressive slew of dancers who linger in the background.
Like a Snapchat filter on acid, the news that Hooper would use innovative fur technology to bring the ‘Jellicle cats’ to life was met by a wave of hysteria from the internet. What exactly the filmmaker tries to achieve with this disturbing visual style is anyone’s guess, with the characters losing the humanity of their performances as a result of the bizarre visuals. (And don’t even get started on their curvaceous physiques or the obvious use of green screen.)
Based on his previous work, Academy Award-winning director Hooper (The King’s Speech, The Danish Girl) has an innate ability to illustrate a sense of space and to evoke emotion on the face of his cast, lingering that few seconds longer to gracefully studying their facial performances. However, the application of Hooper’s emotive direction in Cats, an attempt of speaking to characters’ sense of feeling like an outsider, becomes lost amongst a sea of expensive, yet sketchy, animation that negates the actors’ performances.
The victims of this are a star-studded cast of actors including the likes of Judi Dench (serving mad bedroom eyes), magic glitter tornado Idris Elba, comedic oafs Rebel Wilson and James Corden, ballet superstar Francesca Hayward, a miscast Jason Derulo, a reliable Jennifer Hudson, a fully committed to being a cat Ian McKellen, and the only actor brave enough to endorse the movie, Taylor Swift.
Outside of stunning production design, bringing to life Hooper’s vision of a ‘90s inspired fantasia, Cats fails to be more than one-dimensional thanks to its incessant need to be freaky.
Aside from the Taylor Swift/Andrew Lloyd Webber penned new song, ‘Beautiful Ghosts’ and Jennifer Hudson’s powerhouse rendition of anthem ‘Memories’, the music in Cats lacks the charm of the original Broadway production, imbued with a sense of superficiality that will likely find the soundtrack unable to connect with audiences.
It is safe to say that 2019 has offered a tremendous learning curve for studios regarding what limits there are to CGI. From athletic looking hedgehogs, lions performing Shakespeare, the re-animation of the dead, and now unearthly feline-humanoid hybrids, studios are (slowly) realising that just because you can animate it, doesn’t mean you should. Cats, as a result, becomes unable to claw itself away from its detracting visuals.